A Wyoming gender wage gap study is slated for an update, but the findings could be bleak, said Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie.
As one of the original researchers for a University of Wyoming study regarding the disparity in wages between men and women conducted in 2003, Connolly said she put together House Bill 209, which requires the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services to update UW’s findings.
“In the past couple of the years, Wyoming was 48-49 (out of 50 states in gender wage disparity comparison) of the nation — no longer bottom of the barrel,” Connolly said. “But right before the (2017 Legislative) Session, Wyoming hit rock bottom again.”
Referring to a Fortune Magazine article posted in January, which listed Wyoming’s wage gap as the worst in the nation, Connolly said she decided it was time to update the state’s information.
“Nobody looks at 15-year-old data, especially for economic data,” she said.
Connolly said because she and Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, were often portrayed as having opposing viewpoints on the gender wage gap, they wanted to work together to either debunk the gap as a myth or provide data supporting a need for action.
“We did that on purpose,” Connolly said. “This is a bipartisan effort to get the best data we can on the issue.”
In 2003, the UW study reported women earned about 67 percent of what men earned on average. The article in Fortune Magazine used data collected in a 2014 Harvard University study and reported women earned about 64 percent of what men earned in Wyoming.
“I think the data that is out there on the gross statistic of the wage gap is accurate,” Connolly said. “But what happens when we get nuanced data?”
As the state pushes toward a service-based economy, Connolly said it was important to understand where in the job sector the disparity exists.
While the statics show a wage gap in Wyoming, some business leaders thought the statistic wasn’t representative of individual industries.
“I do believe there is disparity in wages in many industries in the state, but not all,” said Jill Kline, Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network state director. “I believe a lot of women choose to start their own business so they can dictate what they’re making.”
Kline said it was important to close the wage gap because family households more commonly rely on both parents to provide income these days.
“It’s just not the case that it’s typical for one parent to be able to provide for the whole family anymore,” she said.
Laramie Main Street Alliance Executive Director Trey Sherwood said despite the results of the study, it was an important step toward informing women in the workforce.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the study shows we have not made as much progress as we should have,” Sherwood said.
“Whether the results are good or bad, we as business leaders need to use that information to be proactive and creative about how to fix this.”
Kline and Sherwood agreed the study should be updated more often than once every 15 years.
“I would say they’ve been lax,” Kline said.
Sherwood said she would like to see the information updated annually and put together as a tool for people to reference when seeking promotions or employment.
“My hope is that by turning this over to the (Wyoming) Department of Workforce Services, they will update it more often — once every 3-5 years,” Connolly said.
While the primary goal of the bill is to secure accurate data, Connolly said she would like to see the study reveal methods of closing the wage gap used in surrounding states.
“I’m also interested in the state’s economic development,” she said.
Encouraging incoming businesses to commit to offering comparable wages for men and women, Connolly said could be one solution to closing the gap.
Gov. Matt Mead signed HB 209 into law Wednesday.